Tag Archives: australian literature

Judith Wright Poems

Judith Wright was a poet with insights into indigenous people and nature. She told of patterns in life, and in Australia. She and Patrick White both saw patterns. I wonder if they would have got on well together, if anybody could indeed keep White as a friend.

In Five Senses, we see that all five senses are equally important. They create a rhythm, a pattern. Apart, sometimes we can not make sense of what we see, what we hear, or smell or feel. But together they dance. The senses working together create a pattern, which, when followed, can enhance a persons life, make them whole.

Like the world or community. When we are fragmented we are only a part of a whole, incomplete. Sure we can make our own music, but the symphony comes when all instruments work together, playing the same tune.

Judith says :”pattern sprung from nothing-
a rhythm that dances
and is not mine”.  The pattern or Rhythm of life was there before, it was only now that Judith has recognised it for what it is. By saying “It is not mine” acknowledges that the Rhythm comes from outside the body, but is implanted within us, perhaps that Rhythm of life is from God.

Now my five senses
gather into a meaning
all acts, all presences;
and as a lily gathers
the elements together,
in me this dark and shining,
that stillness and that moving,
these shapes that spring from nothing,
become a rhythm that dances,
a pure design.

While I’m in my five senses
they send me spinning
all sounds and silences,
all shape and colour
as thread for that weaver,
whose web within me growing
follows beyond my knowing
some pattern sprung from nothing-
a rhythm that dances
and is not mine.


Legend – Poem by Judith Wright

The blacksmith’s boy went out with a rifle
and a black dog running behind.
Cobwebs snatched at his feet,
rivers hindered him,
thorn branches caught at his eyes to make him blind
and the sky turned into an unlucky opal,
but he didn’t mind.
I can break branches, I can swim rivers, I can stare out
any spider I meet,
said he to his dog and his rifle.

The blacksmith’s boy went over the paddocks
with his old black hat on his head.
Mountains jumped in his way,
rocks rolled down on him,
and the old crow cried, You’ll soon be dead.
And the rain came down like mattocks.
But he only said,
I can climb mountains, I can dodge rocks, I can shoot an old crow any day,
and he went on over the paddocks.

When he came to the end of the day, the sun began falling,
Up came the night ready to swallow him,
like the barrel of a gun,
like an old black hat,
like a black dog hungry to follow him.
Then the pigeon, the magpie and the dove began wailing
and the grass lay down to pillow him.
His rifle broke, his hat blew away and his dog was gone and the sun was falling.

But in front of the night, the rainbow stood on the mountain,
just as his heart foretold.
He ran like a hare,
he climbed like a fox;
he caught it in his hands, the colours and the cold –
like a bar of ice, like the column of a fountain,
like a ring of gold.
The pigeon, the magpie and the dove flew up to stare,
and the grass stood up again on the mountain.

The blacksmith’s boy hung the rainbow on his shoulder
instead of his broken gun.
Lizards ran out to see, snakes made way for him,
and the rainbow shone as brightly as the sun.
All the world said, Nobody is braver, nobody is bolder,
nobody else has done
anything equal to it. He went home as easy as could be
with the swinging rainbow on his shoulder.

When I first read this poem, I thought that the Blacksmiths boy was perhaps a gay boy who knew that he could do anything he put his mind to. He could conquer everything put in his way. I got the idea that he was gay from the line “The blacksmith’s boy hung the rainbow on his shoulder”. However, the rainbow wasn’t adopted by the gay community until the late 70’s. Even though it is possible that this poem was written after that period, there is no proof of that. I thought that perhaps putting the rainbow on his shoulder, and the rainbow shone brightly was alluding to gay pride. But equally it could be talking about proud to be an aborigine, proud to be who you are and showing the world. The blacksmiths boy was a violent masculine boy, but he exchanged his gun for a rainbow and became peaceful. Perhaps we all need a little rainbow in our lives.Hmm perhaps this one will take further research and analysis.
footnote. When searching for an image to go with this poem, I found the one below It makes sense, even in the Judith Wright poem. I wonder if Wright was influenced by this quote by Dickens…definitely needs more research.
Image result for blacksmiths boy

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My Place

Image result for sally morgan

Go into any backyard in the old parts of Sydney, Blacktown in the west, Earlwood in the south, and Asquith in the north. You will find in these yards a lawn surrounded by a mix of natives and introduced species. But go to a derelict building, and the natives take over again, killing off all the introduced species. It Is the paspaplum and kangaroo grass that survives, growing high, through cracks and crevasses left in crumbling fibro houses. It’s the wattle and the bottlebrush that somehow survive or repropogate in the same spots year after year. These are plant that can be pruned, shaped to fit into a cultivated garden, to look pretty, to keep within the borders.

When the hard times come, it’s the natives that survive. When bushfire ravages the Royal National Park, or the Blue Mountains, It’s the Banksia plants that will come up first. The fire having popped all the seed pods, and the ash covered them into the soil. The Coastal Rosemaries grow up again, and we see new branches appearing from old stumps of the mighty Gum trees. The natives of Australia are resilient.

So too the native people of our land. We as westerners, colonisers, really gave the indigenous population a hard time, from the time we arrived and claimed the land to be ours, right to the present day.

My Place by Sally Morgan is a book that describes lives of indigenous people with the trials and tribulations, the hard times, and the funny ones too. She tells it first in first person narrative, but then switches to narrative after interviewing various characters, REAL PEOPLE, in her book.

Sally has been highlighting abuses and inequality in our country for over 30 years. It is because of Sally, and others like her, that indigenous people have felt comfortable to expose themselves for who they really are. Sally tells primarily indigenous people that they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are any more. If people around you are uncomfortable with that, STIFF, they can get out of the way, cause the natives are here to stay.

Image result for sally morgan

What and incredible lesson for all of us to learn. No matter what culture you belong to, where you come from, it’s important to find out who you are, and be comfortable with who you are. Be ashamed no more.

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Sally Morgan’s Nan and bush remedies

The chapter entitled “Growing Up”  in Sally Morgan’s biography, “My Place” explains how Sally’s Nan places half onions around the house in order to keep away germs and disease. Sally comes home from High school one day telling her Nan that the science teacher said it was just an old wives tale, and that raw onions don’t do anything to keep disease away.

Image result for cut onions

I decided to research this. It seems that this remedy goes back as far as the 1500’s when many where dying from influenza and the plague. A doctor was doing the rounds of town and each household had members of the family affected by illness…except one. The doctor asked the farmer and his wife what they did differently. The farmers wife explained that she placed onions in the rooms of the house to absorb the germs. When the doctor checked the onions under the microscope, it was found that the onions did in fact absorb the influenza virus. I was amazed.

I looked up other remedies to see what else was being said.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar is a product that has recently come under the spotlight as having benefits beyond just being added to salads and other culinary delights. It has been known to have healing properties since as far back as 5,oooBC, The Egyptians were using it as an antiseptic and a weight loss method that long ago.Hippocrates in ancient Greece told his students to prescribe Oxymel, which was a combination of vinegar and honey, to bring up phlegm and make breathing easier. Vinegar is often used as a preservative, It was also used for sterilising wounds and instruments, Apple Cider Vinegar is said to have its healing properties because of its high alkaline properties. Also this product can be used as a preventative. Apple Cider Vinegar is made from fermenting apples, to produce the Cider, then fermenting again to produce the Vinegar. It retains all the nutritional properties of apples themselves, so is packed with vitamins and lots of other good chemicals.

Image result for apple cider vinegar

Gum Leaves

Gum leaves are said to have healing properties when crushed in a bowl and boiling water is used to fill the bowl. Put your head over it, with the obligatory tea towel to keep in the vapors and inhale.

Image result for crushed gum leaves

While we are on Aussie cures and deterrents, it is said that Detol in a spray bottle can kill Cane Toads. Give it a try Queensland!

Other Bush Remedies

In Warrabri, the Northern territory the cure for earache is squeezing the fatty part of a witchetty grub into the sore ear. While in Uluru, the cure is squeezing rabbit urine into the ear.

Image result for witchetty grubs

Emu bush leaves, which were used by Northern Territory Aboriginal tribes to sterilise sores and cuts. The leaves are now being considered by Australian scientists as a viable steriliser for implants.

Tea tree oil is used for many things including an antiseptic and a mouth wash, it can also be used as a tea to soothe sore throats.

Eucalyptus leaves can be infused for body pains and fevers and chills. Today the oil is used commercially in mouthwash, throat lozenges and cough suppressants.

The list goes on and on. While scientists have found that some of these remedies to be false, many have been adopted into modern day civilisations. Its funny, if we just look back into history, we can find that a lot of what was said and done to be true, but its like when the discovery is made by modern man, we seem to claim it as the latest new thing.

Aboriginals like Sally Morgans Nanna used a great many things for the physical healing, but were aware that its not just the body that needs healing. They place a great emphasis in making sure the whole person is well, including emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Dance and song play an important part in the health of a person and of equal importance to having a good diet and exercise.

So people, don’t forget to dance.

further reading on aboriginal cures:  http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2011/02/top-10-aboriginal-bush-medicines/

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Relating to Francis Webb

I can relate to the poetry and the life of Francis Webb. He was a poet who was plagued with mental illness, just as I am. He wrote through his depression to produce some amazing work. I too write, and paint, and take photos when I can break through the darkness enough, and get motivated.


this bird felt as miserable as I did the day I took this.

This is a story I wrote when I was having some anxious moments on the bus. I am not so bad now, thanks to google maps. I can track my trip the whole way.


© Dave McGettigan 19 October 2012

I tried to get a seat facing the front, but there were none available. So now I have to face the back of the bus and I can’t see where we are of if my stop is coming up. It’s ok. Don’t panic. You are getting off at the last stop. The bus won’t go any further than the shopping centre. I relax a little.

Why is that woman looking at me?

She can’t know… can she?

No. Dr Stewart told me that nobody would know if I didn’t tell them.

Then why is she looking at me?

She is reaching for her phone. Is she calling the police? Perhaps she is calling Dr Stewart to tell him I am catching the bus by myself. No escort for me this morning.

She is talking in hushed tones on the phone.

Oh god, now she is laughing! What is she laughing at? I combed my hair. I made sure I washed my face after breakfast. I look down and make sure I had buttoned my shirt correctly and that my tie is straight. My fly is up, so it isn’t that. I don’t know why she is laughing.

She has finished her phone call, put her phone away and now she is looking at me again.

She smiled.

Perhaps she likes me. I sit straighter in the seat at the thought. Perhaps she wants to go out with me. No! She wouldn’t have been laughing at me if she likes me.

Maybe she knew me before…before I got sick; before I did those things to that man. I didn’t mean to do it! She must know… I have to tell her. I didn’t mean to do it lady. I was sick. But I’m better now. I can’t tell her that. She won’t understand. Nobody does. They all think I would do something like that again. But I won’t. I couldn’t do something like that if I take my pills. I am good when I take them. But one day of missing them and BAM! I could change so quickly. I touch my shirt pocket to assure myself that the pack is still in my pocket. I breathe a bit easier.

I have changed a lot physically since then anyway. It’s been ten years after all. I have gotten taller, grown whiskers on my face and filled out; so Nurse Stevens tells me. I don’t think she knows me. Besides, that all happened in Adelaide. This is Sydney.

Perhaps I remind her of someone. I hope that is a good thing. Perhaps the person I remind her of brings back some bad memories. But I think the opposite is true. I think I bring back happy memories. That’s why she laughed on the phone. That’s why she smiled at me.

My god, why won’t she stop looking at me! She looks at her watch, which in turn causes me to look at mine. Are we running late? Nope… right on time. But she looked worried.

Maybe she is worried that the police won’t arrive quick enough to grab me when the bus arrives at the shopping centre. No! You have been through all that. She did not call the police or Dr Stewart. She doesn’t know me, nor do I remind her of somebody. She is looking at me because I am facing the back.

Damn. I wish I could have gotten a seat facing the front. Then at least if people were looking at me I wouldn’t even know about it.

She is standing up. She is walking towards me! What is she going to say? Am I going to be ridiculed in front of all these people? I clench my fists in anticipation of the confrontation.

“I like your tie,” she says “My husband has one just like it.”

“Oh…he he,” I give a nervous laugh “Thanks.” I say as she walks past me to exit the bus.

I realise that we have reached the shopping centre and now I can lose myself in the crowd. I alight from the bus and walk the short distance to the entrance of the centre.

Why is that man looking at me…?

I too have been in a mental facility, following a suicide attempt and not able to leave by my own terms. My term was short, but I think that perhaps if I were unwell at the time of Francis Webb, I may have never known freedom again.

Image result for straight jacket


Francis Webb had a spiritual connection and held onto his faith during the time of his suffering.  Many of his poems are prayers; crying out for others to be aware of the suffering, and to provide comfort and relief. Jussi Bjorling provided comfort and relief for Francis Webb with his singing of Nessun Dorma.


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A house divided… Conversations at Curlow Creek

I have chosen this blog as my best critical blog for this course.  I believe it provides an accurate representation of what occurs in the novel, and highlights some ambiguities and metaphors which are cleverly used by David Malouf. By the way, David wouldn’t speculate on the ending of the book either. This is after all, a fiction book, isn’t it?


Conversations at Curlow Creek is a novel set in the early days of the colony of NSW by David Malouf. The novel that talks of an officers duties to hang Daniel Carney, a bushranger. Prior to the hanging though, he spends a night in a cottage with the prisoner. The novel is of the conversations between the two.

The Officer, Adair, is of two minds. It is not only a moral paradox that he has but a personal one. Adair has come to Australia not merely to be a trooper, but to find his lost step-brother, who has reportedly become a bushranger in NSW. It seems that the head of the bushranger gang  that the condemned man was a part of, could possibly be Fergus, the lost sibling; although the name being used by the leader was Dolan.

No conclusion is reached about the true identity of the gang leader. Adair had not resolved the matter. At the same time, the enemy had become known, and perhaps loved.  Adair and Carney have many parallels in their lives. Both grew up in Ireland and both were orphans.  The difference comes in the opportunities presented to Adair as a boy. he was taken in by a friend of the mother, whom he had never known, and educated by a landowner who took an interest in the lad.

So it is that Adair builds a rapport with Carney. It is with a heavy heart that he must carry out his duties to hang the man. He allows him to wash in the creek, to prepare himself for death, and is reminded of a dream that he has in a moments sleep during the night. He wants the man to feel comfort in his death and provides him with hot tea.

No man can serve two masters, Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Adair is in a dilemma. He must remain true to himself, his heritage and do in his heart what is right, or obey those who have employed him and provide his wages.

The last page of the epilogue tells us of Adair breaking and eating bread. This reminded me of the communion celebration in the Catholic church. One is not able to partake of the communion without first seeking reconciliation with God through the forgiveness of sin. Has Adair then forgiven himself for the sin that was committed? Is the sin committed that of taking another’s life, by way of hanging, as was his duty? Or was his supposed sin allowing the escape of Carney, and therefore the sin is against the community and authorities that have hired him to do the job? The issues remain unresolved. I hope to ask the questions of David Malouf when our class meets with him in two weeks time.


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Bailed Up by Tom Roberts

This was one of the paintings that was looked at by my class as they wandered the great halls of the NSW Art Gallery last week.

This painting entitled “Bailed Up”, by Tom Roberts, has been a favorite of mine since 5th grade in primary school. It hung on the white wall outside the deputy principal’s office. I remember sitting there waiting to see him and looking at the painting and wondering about the lives of the people in the painting.

The painting was done ‘plein air ‘ in Inverell in 1895. Tom Roberts used people from the nearby township to act as models so he could paint it. The painting depicted a Cobb and Co stagecoach being held up by Captain Thunderbolt, a local bushranger.  One of the models was an actual stagecoach driver by the name of ‘Silent’ Bob Bates.  This stagecoach driver had actually been held up by Captain Thunderbolt 30 years earlier. One could speculate that Tom Roberts shared a billy of tea with Silent Bob, and asked him about that experience before setting the scene to paint it.

The coach in the painting was typical of the Concord coaches used by Cobb & Co. These were made in America. The suspension used was a belt type, which made long distance travel more comfortable for passengers. The coaches were made for the west in America and were built for rough terrain and high speeds which were needed to avoid raids by Indians and outlaws.

One can see the Royal Mail logo on the side of the coach in the painting. Cobb & Co had the contract for the mail from the 1860’s through to the end of the first world war.

The Cobb & Co coaches were faster than other coaches. Because of that speed, horses had to be changed regularly, and so a whole industry was built around the transport of people and parcels. The horses were bred especially for Cobb &Co. Coach houses were built every 200 miles or so for a quick change of horses and a meal for travelers. Some of the coach houses had accommodation for overnight travelers.

The Cobb & Co coaches became synonymous for a strong willed spirit that kept going through the hard times. Cobb & Co was immortalised through the Tom Roberts painting as well as in literature through poems by Henry Lawson.

The Lights of Cobb & Co

FIRE LIGHTED, on the table a meal for sleepy men,
A lantern in the stable, a jingle now and then;
The mail coach looming darkly by light of moon and star,
The growl of sleepy voices — a candle in the bar.
A stumble in the passage of folk with wits abroad;
A swear-word from a bedroom — the shout of ‘ All aboard!’
‘Tchk-tchk! Git-up!’ ‘Hold fast, there!’ and down the range we go;
Five hundred miles of scattered camps will watch for Cobb and Co.

Old coaching towns already ‘ decaying for their sins,’
Uncounted ‘Half-Way Houses,’ and scores of ‘Ten Mile Inns;’
The riders from the stations by lonely granite peaks;
The black-boy for the shepherds on sheep and cattle creeks;
The roaring camps of Gulgong, and many a ‘Digger’s Rest;’
The diggers on the Lachlan; the huts of Farthest West;
Some twenty thousand exiles who sailed for weal or woe;
The bravest hearts of twenty lands will wait for Cobb and Co.

The morning star has vanished, the frost and fog are gone,
In one of those grand mornings which but on mountains dawn;
A flask of friendly whisky — each other’s hopes we share —
And throw our top-coats open to drink the mountain air.
The roads are rare to travel, and life seems all complete;
The grind of wheels on gravel, the trot of horses’ feet,
The trot, trot, trot and canter, as down the spur we go —
The green sweeps to horizons blue that call for Cobb and Co.

We take a bright girl actress through western dust and damps,
To bear the home-world message, and sing for sinful camps,
To wake the hearts and break them, wild hearts that hope and ache —
(Ah! when she thinks of those days her own must nearly break!)
Five miles this side the gold-field, a loud, triumphant shout:
Five hundred cheering diggers have snatched the horses out:
With ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in chorus through roaring camps they go —
That cheer for her, and cheer for Home, and cheer for Cobb and Co.

Three lamps above the ridges and gorges dark and deep,
A flash on sandstone cuttings where sheer the sidings sweep,
A flash on shrouded waggons, on water ghastly white;
Weird bush and scattered remnants of rushes in the night
Across the swollen river a flash beyond the ford:
‘Ride hard to warn the driver! He’s drunk or mad, good Lord!’
But on the bank to westward a broad, triumphant glow —
A hundred miles shall see to-night the lights of Cobb and Co.!

Swift scramble up the siding where teams climb inch by inch;
Pause, bird-like, on the summit — then breakneck down the pinch
Past haunted half-way houses — where convicts made the bricks —
Scrub-yards and new bark shanties, we dash with five and six —
By clear, ridge-country rivers, and gaps where tracks run high,
Where waits the lonely horseman, cut clear against the sky;
Through stringy-bark and blue-gum, and box and pine we go;
New camps are stretching ‘cross the plains the routes of Cobb and Co.


Throw down the reins, old driver — there’s no one left to shout;
The ruined inn’s survivor must take the horses out.
A poor old coach hereafter! — we’re lost to all such things —
No bursts of songs or laughter shall shake your leathern springs
When creeping in unnoticed by railway sidings drear,
Or left in yards for lumber, decaying with the year —
Oh, who’ll think how in those days when distant fields were broad
You raced across the Lachlan side with twenty-five on board.

Not all the ships that sail away since Roaring Days are done —
Not all the boats that steam from port, nor all the trains that run,
Shall take such hopes and loyal hearts — for men shall never know
Such days as when the Royal Mail was run by Cobb and Co.
The ‘greyhounds’ race across the sea, the ‘special’ cleaves the haze,
But these seem dull and slow to me compared with Roaring Days!
The eyes that watched are dim with age, and souls are weak and slow,
The hearts are dust or hardened now that broke for Cobb and Co.


References used for this blog



Filed under critical posts, Reading Australia

Patrick White and Ralph Waldo Emerson


Ok, I am going to be a bit cheeky here and include this post under both Reading Australia, and American Literature. Why? Because I feel it belongs in both. I believe we can see Emerson, Thoreau and other transcendentalists in Patrick White’s writings. Patrick White was a man who was obsessed with the need for spiritual connection. It is evident in his books and in his life. Is my lecturer going to allow my marrying the two subjects? Paraphrasing Thoreau and Emerson… I am doing it because I believe its the right thing to do, therefore I have confidence in myself and will go on a path that is not often traveled.

In The Tree of Man, Stan Parker is in essence a Christian with ties to a conservative kind of church. He grew up believing in God and the institution of the church, he baptises his kids into the church, he prays and seems to be the spiritual rock of the family; even though he is a man of few words, his conviction is strong. At the end of his life in the book, he has a revelation. He has been striving his whole life for a connection with God, in church, praying and at times cursing a silent God. All that time, God was revealing himself through nature. He is the God in the storm and on the gentle breeze. He is there in good times and bad, even if we cant see it at the time.

Image result for footprints in the sand poem

Patrick White had an epiphany, or a revelation when feeding his dogs one night, and slipping in the mud, that God is everywhere. Before this point, he was searching for a church that was uncompromising in its message, but liberal in its acceptance of people. He was seeking a church that was fervent in sticking to points of scripture that White considered important, while relaxing on the things that didn’t really matter.

I just had an epiphany myself. I have been doing the same thing. As a Gay man, I felt totally rejected by the Christian Church when I came out. Before coming out, I was denying who I was, while in church. I have been striving ever since to find a church that will compromise on the issue of homosexuality, or being accepting of gay people but conservative on other areas of teaching. I can stop searching. I will never find a perfect church, because while it may be perfect for me, it will be imperfect for others, or visa versa.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.


In the words of U2, I still haven’t found what I am looking for. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need a church to justify my belief in God. The church says “follow the leader, follow the rules of those who have gone before. Thoreau says to travel the road less worn, to make your own way. Emerson says to be self – reliant, trusting your gut instinct, your intuition.

For those who are getting caught up in Gay Marriage debates around the world, I say, do not listen to the voices or politics to sway you into voting one way or another. Rely on your gut, and vote your own way no matter how the crowd is swayed. ( sorry to get political).

I hope this post has been informative, and insightful to you, Please leave a comment.


Each man must walk his own journey. One must not look merely at the teachings of the elders of before but be a leader of our own spiritual journey.


Filed under American Writing, critical posts, critical posts, Reading Australia